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White Bear Lake blanks Hill-Murray behind standout goalie performance

By Drew Herron, 03/01/24, 10:00PM CST


Leo Gabriel stops 35 shots in shutout, Jack Stanius' early goal holds up as Bears snap Pioneers' attempt for fifth straight Section 4AA title

White Bear Lake celebrates with its Class 2A, Section 4 trophy after defeating Hill-Murray 3-0 Friday night at Aldrich Arena. The Bears are headed back to the state tournament for the first time since 2019. Photo by Drew Herron,

MAPLEWOOD -- Leo Gabriel knows the history of how section championships have played out in the east metro, but he doesn’t care.

Underdogs, little brother?

Not this White Bear Lake team. Not this year.

“It can’t always go their way, right,” Gabriel said Friday night, beaming with a smile. “This time, it went our way.”

Supremely confident, Gabriel saw to that.

The junior goaltender stopped 35 shots to lead second-seed White Bear Lake to a 3-0 shutout over rival Hill-Murray in the Class 2A, Section 4 championship at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood. It ended the top-seeded Pioneers’ bid for a fifth straight section title on their home ice.

“The shots from the outside, he swallowed them up and he managed rebounds … there wasn’t much of anything when he wasn’t in control of the puck,” first-year coach Chris Anderson said. “He was steady all night.” 

Junior forward Jack Stanius scored 36 seconds in, and that would be all White Bear Lake needed as the Bears jumped on Gabriel’s back and into the state tournament for the 20th time and first since 2019.

“The Rivalry” whenever the two east suburban giants meet, went the way of a 3-3 tie during a regular season meeting just before Christmas.  For the section final, tickets for the 3,000 seat venue sold out in seven minutes for Friday night's main event. 

The teams have met 14 times in section final over the last 25 years, with Hill-Murray (17-9-2) winning 11 of them. 

Not this time, as White Bear Lake (20-7-1) weathered long stretches of pressure and Hill-Murray zone time, while proverbially bending but never breaking. Gabriel’s vision was crisp and his
movement brilliant from the jump as he seized the moment to deliver his eighth shutout of the season, lowering his goals-against-average to 1.87, and upping his save percentage to .926.

A difference maker, the Bears are ready to ride him into the Xcel Energy Center.

“We’ve had to rely on him all year,” Anderson says of Gabriel. “He’s a tremendous goalie.”

Stanius said building an early lead gives the team confidence anytime Gabriel is in net. Hill-Murray hammered on Gabriel in the first period with 16 shots and 12 in the frenzied third. The Pioneers trailed by just one goal for 48 of the 51 minutes.

The more he stood on his head, the more determined the Bears were in front of him to finish it out, and work a system that forces the shots from outside. Hard, grinding work against a Hill-Murray team loaded with guys who can skate and move the puck.

It’s the influence of Gabriel’s confidence, spilling outward from the crease like beams of light.

“He’s unreal, the best goalie in the state,” Stanius said of Gabriel. “He will be up for Frank Brimsek next year. Great goalie and a great kid off the ice … he played a hell of a game.

“All year long, every game we suit up for, we know that we’ve a good backbone to this team.”

White Bear Lake goalie Leo Gabriel stops a scoring chance as Hill-Murray forward Lucas Mann crashes the net in the third period. Photo by Drew Herron,

Quick Recap

Junior forward Jack Stanius scored 36 seconds into the game, and goaltender Leo Gabriel stopped 29 shots as No. 2 seed White Bear Lake shut out top-seeded Hill-Murray 3-0 Friday night at Aldrich Arena in the Section 4AA final. 

The Bears (20-7-1) clinched a spot at the state tournament for the 20th time and first since 2019 with the victory over their biggest rivals.

The teams have met 15 times in section final over the last 25 years, with Hill-Murray (17-9-2) winning 12 of them. 

Not this time as White Bear Lake weathered long stretches of pressure and zone time. Gabriel picked an optimal time to pitch his eighth shutout of the season, lowering his goals-against-average to 1.87, and upping his save percentage to .926.

No. 10-2A ranked Hill-Murray trailed 1-0 until the final two minutes, when a penalty committed on a White Bear Lake rush put the Pioneers in the box for the final 1:47 to play. The Bears popped in an empty netter with a minute left, and another with three seconds remaining to put away the Pioneers.

Jack Stanius (8) races towards the White Bear Lake student section after scoring just 36 seconds into the first period Friday night against Hill-Murray in the Section 4AA final at Aldrich Arena. Photo by Drew Herron, Legacy


Section Final Meetings Since 2000:
2024 -  WBL 3, Hill-Murray 0
2022 -  Hill-Murray 5, WBL 0
2021 -  Hill-Murray 5, WBL 0
2020 -  Hill-Murray 3, WBL 2
2019 -  WBL 3, Hill-Murray 2
2018 -  Hill-Murray 3, WBL 1
2013 -  Hill-Murray 1, WBL 0
2011 -  WBL 5, Hill-Murray 4
2010 -  Hill-Murray 5, WBL 1
2008 -  Hill-Murray 2, WBL 1
2007 -  Hill Murray 3, WBL 1
2006 -  Hill-Murray 5, WBL 4
2002 -  Hill-Murray 4, WBL 1
2000 -  Hill-Murray 2, WBL 0

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